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BMC Proc. 2011 Jun 3;5 Suppl 4:S18. doi: 10.1186/1753-6561-5-S4-S18.

Across-line SNP association study for (innate) immune and behavioral traits in laying hens.

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  • 1Animal Breeding and Genomics Centre, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands.



An association study between single nucleotide polymorphism markers (SNP) and (innate and adaptive) immune parameters but also feather condition score on the back, rump and belly of laying hens was performed. The immune parameters measured in blood samples were natural and acquired antibody titers and complement activity. Feather condition score as a measure of feather damage was determined, this parameter is closely related to feather pecking behavior in hens housed in groups.The aim of the study was to detect associations between genetic markers and immune parameters and feather condition score across nine lines of laying hens, focusing on the feather peckers as well as on the victims of feather pecking.


A novel approach based on across-line analysis and testing of the SNP-by-line interaction was performed.


In total 59 significant associations between SNP and immune traits were detected. Previously identified QTL were confirmed and new associations of genes regulating immune function identified. The IL17A gene (chromosome 3) influences natural and acquired antibody titers and activation of classical and alternative complement pathways. The major histocompatibility complex on chromosome 16 showed significant association with natural and acquired antibody titers and classical complement activity. The IL12B and IRF1 genes on chromosome 13 were associated with natural antibody titers.The direct effect of the genotype of an individual on its feather condition and the associative effect of the genotype of the cage mates on the individual's feather condition were analyzed. The direct genetic effect can be described as the susceptibility to be pecked at, and the associative genetic effect as the propensity to perform feather pecking. Eleven significant associations were detected for the direct effect, and 81 for the associative effect. The serotonin receptor 2C (HTR2C) on chromosome 4 was highlighted in both analyses.


Our results confirmed previously identified QTL and identified new associations of genes regulating immune function. The results for feather condition score supports existing evidence of involvement of the serotonergic system in feather pecking in laying hens. Immune regulatory genes were found to be associated to feather condition score, revealing relationships between the immune system and behavior.

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